Having just released his third album, Breaks & Bone, in the last few days, and winning Scottish album of the year for his last release, Thirteen Lost & Found, in the last few months, it’s unsurprising that St. Andrew’s in the Square is full.
The venue is undeniably engaging; inviting you through large doors, pulling your eyes up shadows that stripe the pillars and the organ pipes, towards the gilded patterns of the ceiling.
There is a feeling, a vague recollection we get when attending a gig in a church; I’m not sure if it’s childhood tied, be our Sunday reflections holy or hungover, there is something imposing about a church – we sit, wait, straight-backed and packed-in.
Hubby arrives on stage to a warm and welcoming applause. The church atmosphere heightening the focus on him and his message:“Right, let’s get this out of the way, I don’t believe in God. I’ve got enough bearded men in my life! I don’t need an imaginary one!”
And this sets the tone of evening! Less ‘preach the Good News, Lord’ and more ‘sing us the bad news, Hubby’.
Hearty antithetical fun, ach, doesn’t everyone love a dib of jolly juxtaposition or a dab of playful paradox here and there.
Soon, he’s playing new song ‘Buckstacy’, rolling his head around as he relaxes into the set, fingers fanning over the strings in his individual flamenco style.
Alisdair Roberts is invited on stage to sing on ‘The False Bride’ from Thirteen Lost & Found, his steady and earthy voice is so Scottish, both in his traditional folk tone and stripped-back style of delivery.
The song tells the tale of a man yearning for the love of his life, and how he watches her start life with somebody else, with a passive but everlasting jealousy.
Hubby‘s guitar, weaving in and out of the story being told, pausing as we hear the man’s honest heartache “I loved a lass, and I loved her so well … Dig me a grave, and dig it so deep” and then springing into notes as we’re left to miss her and imagine her just as he does.
A brilliant song ‘Bolt’ plays soon after, the guitar tapped to create a steady, twitchy beat that would suit an electronic track, something that really sets it apart from previous songs and albums.
Hubby has a singing style that is delicate but deliberate – words sung quietly but pronounced for the hearing.
Regular collaborator Emma Pollock is invited on next, and from the banter it is clear that the two are comfortable performing with one another.
During louder moments of ‘Half Light’ Pollock’s voice swells and fills the church hall, in quieter moments her voice seems to sleek around shoulders and into every ear.
Tonight, ‘Half Light’ sounds uneasy, like a warning; the guitar adds to that strange, dreading feeling – it’s turbulent and bubbling, at times it reminds me of the thunderous elements of Anna Calvi’s music.
As the gig progresses, Hubby becomes more frank about his mental health, he talks about the passing of his parents, grief counseling, the precious people around him, being drawn to sounds and situations that are depressing – sometimes it’s jovial (fucking hilarious) and sometimes it is poignant.
‘For Joe’ is introduced as a song written to remember the father of his ex-wife, who supported him when his own father passed.
Knowing the background, the song sounds more retrospective than ever, starting with a slow picking, the sound of a slow dripping tap, jumping into memories of that person, excited running highlights of shared moments and characteristics, then gradually strumming back down to them not being there in the present.
Hubby brings Aidan Moffat, fellow Scottish Album of the Year winner, on stage for ‘Car Song’.
The spoken word piece is fantastic to see live, the song has such a gaining pace, and the audience is clearly in suspense for the release of the line “so let’s do it…” so they can share in the ideals of leaving everything behind … “ and just go”.
I think if it had been a standing venue, there would have been a sing a long at that point.
The encore is atypical , far from playing a song well-known among the audience, Hubby plays a piece for his dead father – his grief counsellor advocated that he write a letter to him, Hubby wrote the song instead – as far as I’m aware, he has not used this as an encore on other dates in the tour
In the moments that he fixes his capo in place the microphone picks up the nervous shake in his breath.
For some, they would have found it too much, for others, they would have found it an authentic way to end a set which was essentially therapy, but, you know, to whom it had what effect does not matter, it is irrelevant, because it was a song that was not meant to communicate to us but to someone tremendously more important.
Words: Leonie Colmar